New research by San Diego State University psychologist Dr. Jean M. Twenge — who has written about Millenials and other young adult cohorts in books such as “Generation Me” — compares the last three generations on characteristics of materialism and work ethic.
The research set out to evaluate the following question: Are today’s youth really more materialistic and less motivated than past generations, or do adults tend to perceive moral weakness in the next generation?
Study results, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, show that there is in fact a growing gap for today’s young adults between materialism and the desire to work hard.
“Compared to previous generations, recent high school graduates are more likely to want lots of money and nice things, but less likely to say they’re willing to work hard to earn them,” said Twenge. “That type of ‘fantasy gap’ is consistent with other studies showing a generational increase in narcissism and entitlement.”
Compared to Baby Boomers graduating from high school in the 1970s, recent high school students are more materialistic — 62 percent of students surveyed in 2005-07 think it’s important to have a lot of money, while just 48 percent had the same belief in 1976-78.
Sixty-nine percent of recent high school graduates thought it was important to own a home, compared to just 55 percent in 1976-78.
As for work ethic, 39 percent of students surveyed in 2005-07 admitted they didn’t want to work hard, compared to only 25 percent in 1976-78.
An interesting finding was the discovery that adolescents’ materialism was highest when advertising spending made up a greater percentage of the U.S. economy. “This suggests that advertising may play a crucial role in the development of youth materialism,” said Twenge. “It also might explain the gap between materialism and the work ethic, as advertising rarely shows the work necessary to earn the money necessary to pay for the advertised products.”